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Find your voice as a songwriter with Berklees time-tested techniques.

The following
lesson material is taken from Berklee Onlines Bachelor of Professional Studies degree
program in Songwriting. Want to learn more about earning a degree online? Contact us at
1-866-BERKLEE (USA) / +1-617-747-2146 (INTL) or advisors@online.berklee.edu.

The 10-Step Process to Songwriting

How to Write a Hit Song

From the Online Course Commercial Songwriting Techniques by Andrea Stolpe

From the Online Course Songwriting: Writing Hit Songs by Jimmy Kachulis

10

The Business of Song Placement and Song Licensing

13

Making Your Melody Work

16

The Art of Setting Your Words to Music

19

Starting With the Foundation: How to Build Harmony

22

How to Avoid Writers Block

26

Writing Scores for the Big and Small Screens

From the Online Course Songwriting for Film and TV by Brad Hatfield

From the Online Course Songwriting: Melody by Jimmy Kachulis

From the Online Course Lyric Writing: Writing Lyrics to Music by Pat Pattison

From the Online Course Songwriting: Harmony by Jimmy Kachulis

From the Online Course Lyric Writing: Tools and Strategies by Pat Pattison

From the Online Course Music Composition for Film and TV by Ben Newhouse

The 10-Step Process to Songwriting


From Commercial Songwriting Techniques

By Andrea Stolpe

The connection that your audience makes with


your lyrics depends on the power of this one key

We songwriters are constantly looking for great

word. But how do we build that connection with

song material. Were also looking to express our

the audience? By illustrating our piece through

ideas with an artistic voice that is as unique as

specifics and actions. We immediately know the

we are. Furthermore, most us want to simplify

meanings of words like walk and say. But these

the process and expand our marketability. One

words are generic and will not engage any audience

important key to marketability in the hit song market

by themselves. But there are dynamic alternatives.

is, of course, content.

Consider the sentence below.


And I was saying

Effective songs paint rich images for the listener.


Imagine that your songs are paintings. Are you
the proud creator of stick figures scrawled across

We know whats being said, but it doesnt

construction paper, or does your palette of texture,

mean anything.

color, and light capture the desires and deepest


And I was stuttering

wanderings of those gazing upon it?

And I was stammering


And I was blurting out

To ensure that the latter is the case, you can use


a writing process called destination writing. In
destination writing, we begin with one key worda

All of these phrases swapped out the boring say

placeas the momentum for your song content.

with verbs that are emotionally charged. Verbs

The key to destination writing is to use all of your

and adjectives like these will keep your audiences

sensestouch, taste, smell, sight, sound, and also

attention.

movementas springboards for creativity. When


those senses are involved, the writing springs to life.

Once youve got a handle on what words will draw


your audience, it is time to craft a compelling
narrative. Any destination writing will consist of

Six Keys of Connection:

two types of detail: external and internal. Assume

1. Touch

4. Smell

that your song is centered on a primary character.

2. Taste

5. Sound

your character and the internal details will be their

3. Sight

6. Movement

The external details will be what happens around


thoughts and feelings. Any good song will be a mix
of both. Toggling, or the art of combining internal

The 10-Step Process to Songwriting

and external detail, is integral to providing balance


in your lyrics. Too much internal detail and your
song will be weighed down by the thoughts of the
characters. Too much external and the audience will
have nothing personal to identify with.
So how are our words going to work with the music?
How we expect the melody to move is going to
influence how the lyrics move as well. Every new
melodic idea presented in a song a movement

Mary had a little lamb whose

from the verse to the pre-chorus, for example will

fleece was white as snow A

go hand in hand with a new lyrical idea. Im sure

And everywhere that Mary went

youre familiar with Mary Had a Little Lamb.

the lamb was sure to go A

Mary had a little lamb

If the four lines were all representing four smaller

Whose fleece was white as snow

melodic phrases, the rhyme scheme might look

Everywhere that Mary went

more like this. Note that wherever the melodic

The lamb was sure to go

phrase closes, rhyme occurs.

These fours lines contain two musical and two

Mary had a little lamb A

lyrical phrases (Mary had... white as snow and

and Mary had a pony too B

Everywhere...lamb was sure to go.). But this isnt

the sun was rising on the land A

the only way to attack these four lines. We could

and May was slipping into June B

have kept describing the various attributes of Marys


little lamb over all four lines. In that case, we would
continue the same melodic idea for the entire verse.

Once you have your primary lyrical sections in place

We could also change ideas with each new line if we

and developed, it is time to contrast. Imagine if

have a new melodic idea to accompany these ideas.

every section of a song had the same number of

The melodic phrasing determines not only where the

lines, the same rhyme scheme, the same rhythm

topics begin and end but also where a rhyme might

and the same toggling pattern. Sounds boring.

occur. For Mary Had a Little Lamb, the rhyme was

By changing up the rhyme scheme, changing the

occurring between the two large musical phrases.

rhythm, adding or subtracting lines, and altering


the toggling pattern, a songwriter can keep things
interesting over the course of their work.

The 10-Step Process to Songwriting

Just from these short exercises, its clear to see that

a unique voice. Knowing these patterns is critical

the process of commercial songwriting is based on

to the success of both beginners and experienced

a number of patterns. These patterns make up the

writers. With this in mind, the best way Ive found

content of hit songs and these are patterns that a

to approach commercial songwriting is through

songwriter can reproduce while still maintaining

something I call The 10-Step Process.

The 10-Step Process


Step 1:

Step 6:

Destination-write.

Destination-write again using thought/feeling


language.

Step 2:

Step 7:

Find rhyme pairs.

Look for titles and write the chorus.


Step 3:
Choose a rhyme scheme and toggling

Step 8:

pattern.

Write a second verse and pre-chorus.

Step 4:

Step 9:

Add prepositions and conjunctions.

Write the bridge.

Step 5:

Step 10:

Choose a plot progression.

Assess verbs, tense, and point of view, and


conversational quality.

By utilizing all of these steps, youll be able to craft commercially viable songs with ease.

How to Write a Hit Song


from Songwriting: Writing Hit Songs

by Jimmy Kachulis

Lyrically speaking, the chorus is going to summarize


the main idea of the lyric and is going to be

How do they do it? Why does a Beatles or a Michael

the emotional high point the highest intensity

Jackson song capture a listeners attention the way

section of your song. It wouldnt be a bad idea

they do? What is their secret, whats the formula?

to include song title in there too. You want people

If all of us songwriters had the answers to these

to know what your song is called, right? Now how

questions, we would all be a lot richer.

do you want the music to feel? Want something


happy and upbeat? Make your chorus major key

While theres no real formula to crafting a

with a high tempo and maybe use eighth notes.

potential hit, there are methodologies to it. As

Want something a bit funkier and maybe a bit

anyone who has spent time listening to the radio

more intimate? Slow the tempo down and use a

can tell, hit songs come in a few well-defined forms.

mixolydian mode instead.

This is no accident. These writers, producers, and


singers on the radio all know how to put together

Once the general feel of the chorus is in place, we

a song that will probably be a smash. So how do

can start to think about emphasis. If youre featuring

you think the pros do it? They listen to hits of the

your title in the chorus, the cadence is going to

past and they use them as resources for their ideas.

be your friend. By having the title straddle the

Thats one of the less well-kept secrets of pop

cadence starting at the beginning and then

songwriting. The way they make it their own is by

ending on the I chord youre guaranteed to have

using some of the skills Ill mention below to make

it planted in the listeners head. Lets not forget

variations.

the melodic tools we still have at our disposal.


Long notes will make any lyric, especially the title,

The structure of a song will determine what kind of

far more dramatic. Ending on the downbeat, on

effect it will have on the listener, whether it will be

the first beat of the measure, is a subtle but very

a hit or not. One of the most common and possibly

common way to bring out the title too. What do

the most effective forms of a hit to write is the

Message in a Bottle, No Woman No Cry and

verse/chorus. This song form goes hand in hand

Born in the USA all have in common? They were

with the dynamics of the audience:

all massive hits and they all used these melodic

1. The audience usually listens to the story

tools I just mentioned. So how many ways can we


use these tools? Well, there are seven standard

the verses are telling

types of choruses choruses that state the title at

2. And then the chorus will come around,

one point or another. You can use all of the tools in

summarizing the story as the audience

standard types of choruses different ways with each

sings along

type of chorus. So you do the math.

How to Write a Hit Song

The chorus alone could have whole lessons written

the bridge move

about it. But its not the only part of a song. Any hit

with a different chord

needs to be greater than the sum of its parts and

progression, then

the section that is going to make up most of those

the verses or chorus

TTTT

parts are the verses. As the verse is a supporting

(and again, avoiding a

idea, many successful tracks will have verses that

cadence), or by having

-T-T

remain melodically, harmonically, and lyrically static.

the bridge modulate

This ensures that your verses not pull the power

away and back to the

away from other sections. For example, the same

key of the song. Making

way that we use cadences to ramp up the chorus,

the bridge a bar longer

we shouldnt be using cadences in the verses.

or shorter than the

Instead, you could resolve to have your verses end

other sections is a great

on chords that arent the tonic.

way to build tension.

I mentioned before that youre going to be telling

The pre-chorus will

the story in the verses. If you want to build a

also contrast with the chorus and verse melodically,

conversational vibe in the verses, make use of

harmonically, and formally. However, a pre-chorus

short notes, a limited pitch range, and having the

will also break down the intensity at the beginning

melody in the low to middle register. All of this

of the section only to ratchet it back up toward

doesnt mean that the lyrics have to be boring. The

the end into the coming chorus. Slowing things

audience is going to be listening during the verses.

down, lower notes, and longer phrases will break

That means that the verses can be the perfect time

the intensity down. To build the pre-chorus back

to bring in some complex, sophisticated melodic

up near the end, an ascending melodic shape and

ideas.

losing some of the space between the words will

TT

T-TT--T
- - -- T
T--Figure 1: The seven
standard types of
choruses

get the audience ready for the chorus.


The verse/chorus form we need two more sections
to act as connective tissue for the verses and the

Within a single type of song form, the verse/

chorus: the bridge and the pre-chorus. These

chorus, there are endless possibilities and countless

sections function in similar waysthey connect and

variations to be made. But there are other forms

contrast with the material that comes before and

and variations to explore. As you continue to hone

after, and they both build intensity into the next

your craft and create new material with some of the

section.

tools Ive shared here, you might just come up with


a smash hit or your own. When that happens would

Lyrically speaking, our bridge will contrast in

you mind crediting me as a co-writer?

content with the verse and the chorus. This can be


as simple as changing the tense, by generalizing
if the lyrics prior were specific, or by focusing on
a new emotion. Musically speaking, you can make

The Business of Song Placement


& Song Licensing
from Songwriting for Film and TV

by Brad Hatfield
You are about to become a more marketable
songwriter. At least in terms of having your songs
work great in movies and TV shows.
Have you ever heard a song in a movie or television
show and exclaimed, I could have written that!?
Well, you probably can, but as youll find, writing for
movies or television shows is more than just writing

Now for one of the unglamorous realities of

a good song. Its about making a good song work

songwriting for film and TV: youre not going to

with visual media.

have the final word on your material. A good skill to


pick up early on is the ability to write on demand.

Writing songs for film and television is nothing new,

In fact, songwriting for film and TV is almost always

but the explosion of visual media output today

by emergency. When writing on demand you

has created an increased demand for a broad

have to realize that the song itself is not the star of

range of songs that will work dramatically as part

the show. One needs to understand their role as a

of the overall production. And a directors or music

contributor. Besides that, people involved in any

supervisors choice of a song can make an unknown

film or TV project are going to give input and youre

songwriter or musical act an overnight sensation

going to take that input. After all, the people youre

and potentially open doors to a fruitful and lasting

working for might not be musicians or songwriters

career.

but everyone knows about music just ask them!

This increased popularity in music featured in

Youre also going to get conditional requests. A

television shows has come with the changes of use

producer might want a song to feature female

of the featured songs. In the old days, a featured

vocals or have a guitar lead or be written in a certain

song might have been the equivalent of sonic

key or mode. Not only that but chances are youre

wallpaper. Today, the melody of a placed song

going to be working on a number of projects that

will weave its way into the DNA of the scene it is

will require you to make some changes after youve

featured in. If there is lyrical content, it may become

handed them the finished song product. This is a

part of the storyline. The feel of the track supports

business where you will have to check your ego at

the onscreen atmosphere, just like underscore

the door if you want to succeed.

would.

The Business of Song Placement & Song Licensing

But writing on demand isnt the only way to have

outside parties. Here are a few quick examples of

your material featured in film or television. Some

where some adherence to guidelines will help the

songwriters are probably already familiar with the

songwriting process.

concept of song libraries. Song libraries contain

Say a singer contributes their tracks with

stock music that can be licensed out to TV shows,


movies and commercial productions. These song

the reverb and delay already on. Thats

libraries could easily be what gets your career off

fine but be sure to get the dry tracks, or

the ground and what sustains you in the long run.

the tracks without the effects in place.

Your material needs to be up to snuff though. After

Are you recording a live drummer? Make

all, these libraries are only good as the material they

sure your mic arrangement allows for a

host, so theyre only going to include the best of the

clear sound on each track from the floor

submissions they receive.

tom to the crash, just dont go crazy.

Speaking of tracks, dont forget to give

So you might already have all the skills in place


to write great songs, get them produced, and be

those tracks obvious names (example: for

well connected enough to get your songs placed

the overhead left mic track, OL.wav; the

all by yourself. Thats great, but its inefficient.

floor tom mic track, FL TOM .wav; etc...)

Why labor alone when you can strike up a creative

Before sending a MIDI track, prepare your

partnership? Having a writing partner (or better yet,

file for export, then open up the exported

a team) will expedite any song writing process. And

file yourself to make sure everything is


there before you send it. I call this an

This is a business where you will


have to check your ego at the door if
you want to succeed.

idiot check.

To make it in the world of commercial songwriting,

Im speaking from experience here; I would not be

its a given that you need to know how to put a

where I am in the music industry if it werent for

track together. But thats not enough. Youll need to

collaboration. Period. The end.

sharpen your technique as a writer. Youll need to


expand your work possibilities by exploring

The power of collaboration extends to every phase

collaboration and all of the writing and production

of the songwriting process, especially during

opportunities it can afford. Finally, you will also

production and post-production. A key to successful

gain a better understanding of the business side

collaboration, outside of clear communication,

especially for licensing and getting exposure for

is establishing recording guidelines. The rules of

your songs. Once youve got all that down then the

collaboration need to apply to the people you

TV and film music world is your oyster.

are used to working closely with as well as to

Making your Melody Work


from Songwriting: Melody

by Jimmy Kachulis
Melody is one of the most important and immediate
aspects of a song. Its the element that the audience
sings along with. Its the one that most intimately
brings out the emotion of the lyric story. The melody
also exists alongside and on top of the harmony. But
that relationship can differ depending on the effect
you are trying to achieve with your song.
When were setting our lyrics together with the
melody, there are three considerations we need to

two and four bar phrases will give a song a steady

make.

feel. Surprising phrases any other bar length will


keep things fresh and draw the listeners attention.

What is the length of each note?

Good songs will have a mixture of both. And those


phrases will gain additional power from the spaces

What is the length of the phrases?

in between them. Verses will benefit from having

What is the space between the phrases?

lyrics be more closely packed together with little


room to breathe. Choruses, on the other hand,
benefit from being drawn out and require more

These may seem like trivial questions, but the

space between the lyrics as a result. Once you have

note length, phrase length, and phrase space will

the basic lyrical ideas in place for your melody, try

determine how your lyrics feel to the listener. Lets

developing them with some repetition or present

start with the notes. Listen to Bob Marleys No

new ideas as a contrast.

Woman, No Cry. Youll find that the verseswhich


are conversational in tone, and build the story of

Sure, setting the lyrics to your melody is important.

the trackgenerally have shorter notes. The chorus,

But it is the interaction between melody and

where the title of the track is repeated, consists of

harmony that will define your song. Lets say we

longer notes. This is no accident. When lyrics are

already have a harmony in place, or we have a way

set to longer notes, they are emphasized and are

in mind that we want our melody to work so were

automatically more dramatic.

not thinking of melodic ideas with no context. So


lets develop a pitch. When it comes to the pitch of

The melodic phrases you use for your lyric sections

a melody, there are three approaches.

can be of a standard or surprising length. Standard

10

Making your Melody Work

1. Melody On ChordsWhere the melody

But say you really want to spice things up with your


melody. Counterpoint between a bass line melody

stays on a chord

moving against the vocal melody might do the trick.

2. Melody Over ChordsWhere the melody is

But not all bass lines are built equal. The easiest way

in the key, but is only loosely related to the

to determine if the bass melody would make for

chords

good counterpoint is if it could be sung. Bass lines

3. Melody Against a Bass Line

that move all over the staff will be useless unless

(Counterpoint)Where there are two

youre going to be scat singing. There are four kinds

melodies and the vocal melody moves

of standard counterpoint: parallel, similar, oblique

against a bass melody

and contrary. If a bass line has the same melodic


shape as the vocal line, then it is a form of parallel

No matter what approach you take, youre going

counterpoint. Similar counterpoint features a bass

to start on one of the tones in the chord. Starting

line and vocal melody that move in essentially the

from the tones will allow you to build a compelling

same direction, though not as closely as parallel.

melody consisting of even the simplest materials

Now heres where things get interesting; oblique

and development. The example that comes to

counterpoint will have either the bass or vocal line

mind is Billy Joels We Didnt Start the Fire, a

revolve around a limited number of notes. The bass

song whose melody would resemble a straight line

line might stay on one note or move around in an

if mapped out. If you want to decorate a melodic

ostinato. The vocal line will stay in basically the

line like this (and you might, considering how

same place. If youve heard the opening verse of

flat it could sound), you can zig-zag between the

Stairway to Heaven then youve heard oblique

neighboring notes that reside right above and

counterpoint. Finally, contrary counterpoint, as its

below your original tone. However many chord

name implies, have the bass and vocal lines moving

tones you try to base your melody on, understand

in opposite directions; the bass line swings down

that each will have an effect, creating a distinct

while the vocal ascends, or vice versa.

melodic shape.
These are just some of the basics of melodic

StationaryA straight line

development. I havent begun going into


developing a riff or making a melody from a

Zig-zagDecorates a straight line with a

mixolydian mode or in blues form. But you never

neighbor

leave the building blocks. The simplest methods of

AscendingStarts low and goes up

developing melody are tools youll be using for the


rest of your songwriting career. These methods are

DescendingStarts high and goes down

the gifts that keep on giving.

ArchStarts low, goes up and then down


Inverted ArchStarts high, goes down
and then back up

11

The Art of Seeing your Words


from Lyric Writing: Writing Lyrics to Music

by Pat Pattison

How the lyrics should be set to the music depends


on the strength of each beat in the melodic line.

Stressing syllables, note values in swing time,

The 4/4 two bar phrase on this page will illustrate

and writing in 3/4 and 4/4 time. Did you think I

the strength of each beat relative to one another.

was talking about the melody? One of the most

The strength of the beats, from strongest to

beautiful aspects of the written and spoken word is

weakest is 1, 3, 4, and 2. But what if we change up

how it lends itself to interpretation. When writing

the wording a little bit, like changing long days,

songs, the title, melody, harmony, and lyrics are

long nights to day time, night time? Look at

all going to contribute to the impression that will

the four bar phrase. Even reading it in your head it

be with whoever is listening. As the songwriter,

sounds different, but say it out loud. This illustrates

you want to ensure that the feeling of the track is

the power of secondary stresses, the relationship

conveyed in both the music and lyrics. Without

between a phrase with a strong/secondary emphasis

cohesion between the music and lyrics, the song will

in the words.

be hurt. Matching lyric and melody communicates


your ideas smoothly and naturally, giving your
listeners easy access to the feelings you created
when you wrote your song. It gives them an entry to
your intent.

So what happens in cases when we need to set


lyrics to music that is already written? Lead singers

There are many different ways to go about writing

and band lyricists will be very familiar with situations

the words for your music. It doesnt matter if you

like this. Check out the diagram below. The bar is

write the lyrics or the melody first for a song. When


you write lyrics first, it will help you create your
melodies, because youll already know what your
lyrics rhythms are. There are cases where your lyrics
and music are playing leapfrogone piece of lyric
generating a larger piece of music, which in turn,
creates more lyric rhythms to match. And, of course,

in 4/4 time and is populated primarily with eighth

there are always those situations where you have to

notes. Because were dealing with eighth notes, we

write that pesky second or third verse after most of

have three levels of strength: beats 1 and 3 of each

the rest of the song is finished.

bar are strong, beats two and four of each bar are
secondary stresses, and the upbeats (&) are weak.
So look at the measures. The first and second bar

12

The Art of Seeing your Words

function in a pretty straightforward fashion. But look


at bar 3 and youll notice that the last two notes are
on upbeats. Since there is no note on the fourth
beat, and no note beginning on the downbeat of
bar 4, these are both anticipations. They both gain
a little more strength. Lets focus on this third bar
then. When setting the lyrics, we have to consider
where the syllable is going to fall. The third beat
is, of course, strong, so put a strong syllable there.
The final note is strong, too, so put a strong syllable

mind that when putting the lyrics together youre

there. The only question is what to do about 3.

crafting a narrative. The listener is not going to have

Should it be strong, secondary, or medium? Lets

the same insights into the meaning of your track

look at all three possibilities.

so it can be easy for a listener to get left behind if


youre not careful.

DUM DUM DUM hard days night


DUM dum DUM daylight shines

Even with all the right words and a Pulitzer

DUM da DUM first in line

doesnt conform to the shape of the music then

worthy narrative, if the structure of the words


all of your power will be lost. There are simple

I prefer the middle syllable being a secondary

tricks to building power in your music and lyrics.

stress, since the anticipation makes it stronger, and

By separating or isolating a note by itself, it

especially since its a surprise after all those regular

automatically gains prominence and power. Notes

eighth notes in a row.

that are preceded by rests but followed by notes of


lesser value gain power in this same way. But if that

So we now have a good sense of how the setting

following note is longer, the first note will act as a

should work. But we cant forget about the story. At

pickup, lending power to the material that follows it.

any point in a track in the lyrics for the bridge, the


verses, the pre-chorus, wherever always make sure

Lyric writing is an integral skill for any songwriter.

you can get the answers to these two questions:

The melody and harmony will give your song its


sonic power. But that is only a part of the equation.

1. Where did I just come from?

Good lyrics will be matched to your music. Good


lyrics will communicate your intent. Good lyrics will

2. Where do I go from here?

let your words sing naturally. And good lyrics will


make your song greater than the sum of its parts. So

Where did the first chorus come from, for example?

whats stopping you from taking your writing to the

What situations, people, actions, perspectives or

next level?

attitudes preceded it? Youre looking for ideas that


lead naturally into the choruss statement. Keep in

13

How to Build Harmony


from Songwriting: Harmony

by Jimmy Kachulis
Harmony is one of musics profound dimensions.
Harmony is a background player, supporting the
rest of the sonic cast. While melody articulates
the conscious narrative, harmony gives shape to a
songs subconscious emotional message or subtext.
From building suspense to lending your song a
polished, balanced feel, without harmony, no other
part of the song will have context.

ideas in the melody. Basing some songs elements


on others is an easy way to develop an organic,

When were talking about harmony, were often

connected feel.

thinking about the groove. So what is the groove?


Its not just a funky bassline. The groove is a

We can see how rhythm can add to the feel of the

combination of elementsincluding tempo, feel,

track. But how do we develop the overall sound?

and rhythmthat make up the rhythmic core of

Like any artist you have access to a palette of

a song. Whether the groove is played by a lone

different colors to work with. Major, minor, power

guitarist or a 15-piece mambo orchestra, all of these

and seventh chords are the four types of chordal

elements are present in their groove.

colors. Each key color can serve as a source for


harmonies that will work with the primary chord.

Individual groove elements are often very simple

Lets describe a C major chord color as bright

out of context. The power of a songs harmony will

yellow. Like a painter, you may choose to paint

come from how these simple elements work against

your song entirely with that shade of yellow.

each other and how they are developed. Visualize

However, as the emotions of a song become more

the sound of a lone sustained chord. Without a

subtle, you may find yourself wanting to use other

groove, that chord would hold only limited interest.

shades of yellow, and maybe even related colors.

However, inside a groove, that same chord could be

These chord colors are suggestive too.

interesting enough to last the duration of an entire


song. There are endless rhythmic variations that can

Its important to remember that harmony thrives on

be used to build up a groove. A guitarist and a bass

variation. Changing the progressions length, chord

player might use the same rhythmic ideas, though

rhythm, and chord order can all keep a harmony

the idea might be offset by a beat or two. Similarly,

fresh. All of these are variations of timing, and the

the rhythmic ideas of the groove may share rhythmic

chords themselves stay intact. Varying the timing

14

How to Build Harmony

Without harmony, no other part


of the song will have context.

and order of a chord progression preserves much


of its essential character, and helps you adapt a
standard progression to a song. These changes can
highlight a unique lyric, change the pacing of the

groove, build excitement, and otherwise support


the songwriters dramatic intentions.
Putting together these variations in timing, color,
and rhythm are easy enough out of context. The
real trick is putting everything together. But how
do we develop the harmony throughout a song?
Think back to some of the songs youve heard over
the years. Many of these songs use the same chord

Manic Depression and pay attention to the riff.

progressions, chord progressions that become

The song moves in an I bVII IV progression, another

familiar very quickly. These progressions occur so

power progression. What kind of feel does it give the

often, and are so powerful I refer to them as power

whole track? How does it support the lyrics? More

progressions. They are so strong, that you can

importantly, now that youve heard it, what kind of

use any one of them alone to suggest an entire

variations could be made to mix things up a bit?

key color. The power progressions will be your


constant allies as a songwriter. Consider the power

Power progressions like these are common phrases

progression below.

of speech, or expressionstried and true musical


objects. Though they may have been used countless

I IV V

times before, there is always something new


that power progressions can be used to say. By

This progression is arguably the most famous chord

modifying the power progressions, or any chord

progression in rock music. Countless songs have

progressions, you can create endless variations

been written around it. So what can we do with

of them, and spin countless songs from the same

it? What if the chord progressed backwards? How

essential material.

would adding a minor second or a minor third into


the progression change the feel of the harmony? By

Chord progressions, the power of a groove and

just considering the different chords we can add to

the colors of the keys are all just barely scratching

this progression, weve opened up pandoras box.

the surface of harmony. Harmony is the bedrock,


the backbone of any song. Every harmonic

But were not limited to the realm of major and

development and every means of variation will

minor. Lets look at how we can utilize modes in our

become a tool in your arsenal. And with the more

progressions. For example, the difference between

harmonic tools at your disposal, the easier the

the major and mixolydian key colors is only one note.

songwriting process will be.

But what a difference it makes! Listen to Jimi Hendrix

15

How to Avoid Writers Block


from Lyric Writing Tools and Strategies

by Pat Pattison

The order and delivery of the words builds


a cadence that, when meshed perfectly

How important are the lyrics really? What kind of

with the rhythm of the music, create a

question is that?!

whole that is greater than the sum of its


parts.

A well written song should be able to bring in a

Much of the power of your lyrics relies on their

listener on the strength of its melody and harmony

balance. In every aspect of our lives we try to

alone, right? Well consider this. The relationship

even things outbring them into symmetry. Thats

between words and music is what makes a song, by

why being able to create a regular rhythm is so

definition, a song. Words build into phrases just like

important. It gives you the ability to satisfy the

musical notes build into musical phrases and can be

listeners need for symmetry. Rhythm is created

developed as such. Finally, the nature of the lyrics

by repetition of figures through time. Music and

defines the feel and the interpretation of the song.

language move through time and symmetry is

But how do we do that?

measured by the relationship between what has


been and what is now. So, if you have already heard

Your job as a lyricist is to write words that work with


music. You can write the lyric before the music, write

da DUM...

the lyric to already written music, or write them both


together. However you do it, you will always be

And then you hear another

working with at least three elements: ideas, sounds,

da DUM...
you will hear the symmetry the two
together create as

and rhythms.

Ideas are compelling concepts that you

da DUM da DUM...

can convey to the listener and the words

And if we then hear two more

that will act as a the vehicle for those

da DUM da DUM...

ideas.

you see even more symmetry

The sounds, the sonic relationship

da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM

words have with one another, will raise


a listeners expectations, speed up or

You can start tapping your foot now. You have

slow down a song and can signal the

established a regular rhythm. So an even number

beginning and end of a song.

of lines with the same syllabic count in each line


will create a balanced, even-feeling piece of prose.

16

How to Avoid Writers Block

Balanced lyrical passages will have an even number


of lines and a complementary rhyme scheme. But
a song of just balanced lyrics will feel like a gentle,
soothing lullaby. We add drama and tension to
the mix with the addition of unbalanced sections.
Featuring an odd number of lines, unbalanced
sections are great in helping to emphasize lyrics that
are presenting unstable emotions and imagery.
Every song needs to be a mix of balanced and
unbalanced sections. By having a mix or a split of

ready to find metaphor on a daily basis. Look for

these sections, we build the listeners interest. This

connections. Ask yourself:

illustrates the idea of prosody, the supporting of

What quality does my object have?

your meaning with your structure. Look at these

What else has that quality?

lyrics:

Imagine a gate. Think of all the nouns, verbs,

Slam the door and tell me

and adjectives that go along with gate. Gates are

that youre leaving

openings or hinges that can swing, slam shut, and

Say you feel a darkness closing in

intimidate while being squeaky, sticky or rusty. So

Tell me that youre gone I wont believe it

weve answered our first question. But what else is

Just another last goodbye

like a gate? What else is an opening to something

Its ringing through the night

else? A college exam is certainly something that

Run like a renegade

opens up to new possibilities. Now we can build our

Run from the love we made

metaphors.

But weve gone too far too long


And were Too Far, Too Far Gone

She felt locked out by the weight and size of


the exam. Her future hung on rusty hinges

The first section is unbalanced, supporting the

would the exam open the way or refuse

emotion of the scene; the second section is

to budge at all? The last three questions

balanced, stating the truth. As structures into one

slammed shut on her hopes for a scholarship.

another, the way they move should reflect the ideas


they contain: worrying, feeling off balance, and then

We just hit the tip of the iceberg for metaphors.

finding out everythings fine, or feeling completely

But what if you dont have any idea of what to write

content waiting here, loving you.

about? If you at least have a title for your song


then youll have something to work off of. Some

However balanced or unbalanced your section

songwriters believe that a song title is simply what

is wont matter if the words arent up to par. Its

you finally decide to put at the top of the page

not enough to have a rhyming dictionary. Though

something you decide on after youve finished

that is a good start. As a writer, you need to be

the songsomething that provides an interesting

17

How to Avoid Writers Block

angle on the lyric content. Time for a controversial

Your title carries obvious thematic weight with the

position: your title isnt just something you put at

meanings of your words. But your title, like any

the top of the page. It is the centerpiece of your

other lyric, will have innate musical qualities. Look

songthe target area that every aspect of the song

at the phrase below and say it aloud a few times.

aims for, controlling everything else. If there are

Dont overthink it. Just repeat the phrase until the

elements in the song that dont relate to the title

flow of the words feels natural.

somehow, they dont belong in the song.


Cast Out the Demons.
Even simple titles can carry a great deal of weight. A
title (or hook) gives you a great deal of information

Which word or syllable has the highest pitch? That

immediately. For starters, it suggests ideas and

highest pitch word, whichever it is, will have the

concepts through the specific and the implied. A

most dramatic impact and it would make sense to

classic example of this is Elvis Presleys Heartbreak

put it in the strongest musical position in the chorus.

Hotel. What does its title suggest?

Buts its all a matter of intent. With your song, do

1. A place you can check into or out of.

you want to CAST out the demons, cast OUT the

2. A place you can stay for a while, but no

the syllables rhythmically can express any of these

demons, or cast out the DEMONS? How you set

one really lives there.

emphases. Finding a good title and building off of it


is just one of the many ways you can compose your

3. Perhaps a place that, if you check in, your

lyrics.

heart will be broken.

4. Perhaps a place that you go after your

This is just a brief overview into how you can come

heart has been broken.

up with the material that will make up your lyrics.


Now why dont you give it a shot?

With that setting, consider all of the questions


that have been brought up to the listener and the
songwriter. Why would you go there? How do you
feel about being there? When would you check in?
Or out? We instantly have material for the story of
the song.

18

Writing Scores for the Big and Small Screens


from Music Composition for Film and TV

by Ben Newhouse
Cinematic orchestral music is very powerful,
capable of making the audience cry, laugh, cringe,
jump, and/or sit on the edge of their seat. For the
composer, hearing your music in a movie theater or
broadcast on television is an immensely gratifying
experience. Moments like these have been some of
the most gratifying of my career.

What is the plot in this scene?

At its core, film scoring is the discipline of

Who is the audience going to be relating

composing music appropriate for a film. That


immediately distinguishes it from any kind of

to here?

absolute music, or any music that conceived of as

What is the person the audience is

a self-sufficient art form. Film scoring comes with a

relating to feeling right now?

much different set of considerations compared to

What is the audiences perspective?

writing for the stage or the concert hall. More often


than not, the music is not going to be the most

Consider a scene with intimate, close dialogue

important thing happening.

between two characters. There might be a hint of


melancholy and sadness. The scene completes

The fundamental role of music in film is to enhance

with a pan out of the characters looking off into the

the emotions that the audience is experiencing. It

distance, towards a panorama and an uncertain

is invariably valuable to ask, What do we want the

future. Scenes like this call for smaller

audience to be feeling at this moment? This will be

instrumentation with sustained textures running

the guiding question in deciding what kind of music

beneath the dialogue. It might work to keep the

to compose.

harmony in the minor key and fairly diatonic. The


same applies for the melody; too many accidentals

Look at whatever work youre writing for as though

would distract attention away from whats

you were a literature professor. That question of

happening on the screen. Keeping things

what the audience should be feeling can be broken

metrically simple, either in 3/4 or 4/4, and with a

down even further:

slow, free tempo would work well here too.

19

Writing Scores for the Big and Small Screens

Enhance the emotions the


audience is experiencing.

As for orchestration, there are a few different routes


to take. Its important to remember that the highest
pitched instrument in the score is automatically
going to command the most attention from the

Its also important to have examples of your work

audience. Considering that, handing the melody

that are set to picture and examples that are just the

off to a solo oboe or flute (with support from lower

music. Any music set to film that you send to a

register strings) might make sense. A scene like

filmmaker is going to be scrutinized by the merits of

this would benefit from a structure of incremental

the film itself. What Im saying is you dont want to

complexity. A strategy frequently used by master of

not be hired for a project just because the producer

orchestration John Williams, incremental complexity

has a real problem with the lighting in the scene you

finds the composer presenting multilayered material

sent them.

one layer at time, saving complex textures for later


renditions of the material. This means that you

Once youve got the job, youre going to be

might present the harmony alone at first. Then add

beholden to the work flow and the habits of the

the melody and harmony together, followed by the

production team. In the past I have produced music

melody, countermelody and harmony. Ultimately,

for a project where Ive never seen a picture. This

the music needs to develop and move in time

is found more frequently in smaller scale projects,

with the structure of the scene. Dont think of the

like commercials or TV shows. More frequently the

scene requirements as a restraint, rather as a way of

producer or director will hand you a scratch version

framing your musical ideas.

of the film with a temp track in place to help give an


idea of the music that they are looking for.

Im assuming that anyone trying to break into film


scoring has some past composing experience. So
lets get down to the nitty gritty, the business end
of film scoring. Say you want to build a portfolio for
prospective film music supervisors. Try getting in
touch with student filmmakers. Theyll be very
excited about the idea of anybody composing for
their films and they will probably be receptive to
letting you use their material to promote yourself.

20

Meet the Authors

Pat Pattison
Pats Online Courses

Pat Pattison is an author,


clinician, and Berklee

Lyric Writing: Writing Lyrics to Music

Professor of Lyric Writing and

Get the most out of your lyrics by learning

Poetry whose students have

how to combine them accurately and effectively

composed for major artists and written number one

with melody.

songs. At Berklee, he developed the curriculum


for the only songwriting major in the country. His

Lyric Writing: Writing From the Title

books, including Songwriting: Essential Guide to

Make your writing process more efficient and your

Rhyming and Songwriting: Essential Guide to Lyric

lyrics more effective. Learn how to find a powerful

Form and Structure, are recognized as definitive in

and effective song title, discover how to build lyrics,

their genre, and have earned many ecstatic reviews.

develop the rhythms of your song sections, create

His clinics are attended by songwriters all over the

contrasting sections and ideas to re-color your

country, and his articles appear regularly in a variety

chorus based on that title.

of industry publications. Several of his students have


won Grammy Awards, including John Mayer and

Lyric Writing: Tools and Strategies

Gillian Welch.

Express your ideas in compelling and original ways,


learn how to generate better ideas, and organize
rhythms and rhymes into verses, choruses and
bridges.
Creative Writing: Poetry
Learn to craft and control your writing, enhance your
ideas, and write better lyrics through the study of
poetry.
Creative Writing: Finding Your Voice
Learn to write clearly and strongly in your own
unique voice, bringing your full self to your writing
process every time you write.

21

Meet the Authors

Jimmy Kachulis
Jimmys Online Courses

Jimmy Kachulis is an
accomplished composer,

Songwriting: Writing Hit Songs

arranger and conductor, who

Move your listeners and express yourself more

has worked with renowned

effectively by crafting your songs the way hit

artists like George Coleman, Jon Hendricks, John

writers do.

Lewis, and Martha Reeves. His compositions have


been featured on scores from The Sopranos and

Songwriting: Harmony

Touched By An Angel.

Learn how harmony can help you to articulate the


essential meaning of a song, and the best ways to
adapt chords and progressions to suit your unique
songwriting style and ideas.
Songwriting: Melody
Learn to construct strong, expressive melodies that
your audiences will remember.

Brad Hatfield
Brads Online Courses

Brad Hatfield is an Emmy


Award-winning composer

Songwriting for Film and TV

and one of Bostons most

Explore the techniques of writing music that will

prolific musicians. His musical

appeal specifically to music supervisors, editors,

compositions have been heard on movies such as

directors, and producers across any number of

Borat and Iron Man 2, as well as the TV series The

different genres.

Sopranos, CSI, Saturday Night Live, Friends, and


dozens more.

22

Meet the Authors

Andre Stolpe
Andreas Online Courses

Andrea Stolpe is a multiplatinum recorded songwriter,

Commercial Songwriting Techniques

performing artist, and

Learn to write for commercial success by

educator. She has worked as a

reproducing the time-tested characteristics of hit

staff writer for EMI, Almo-Irving, and Universal Music

songs while maintaining your own unique voice.

Publishing, with songs recorded by such artists as


Faith Hill, Daniel Lee Martin, Julianne Hough, and
many others.

Ben Newhouse
Bens Online Courses

Ben Newhouse has worked


as a music supervisor and

Music Composition for Film and TV 1

composer on dozens of

Learn to write music in the style of big budget

television shows, films, and

Hollywood films and TV programs. Analyze

stage productions for media corporations including

melody, harmony, counterpoint, tempo, rhythm,

ABC, FOX, MTV, and Disney.

and orchestration in a variety of genres to gain a


complete recipe book for writing for film and TV.
Music Composition for Film and TV 2
Gain a thorough understanding of the compositional
styles used in Hollywood projects. Learn to analyze
specific genres of film and television music in terms
of melody, harmony, counterpoint, tempo, rhythm,
and orchestration, forming a template that you can
then apply to your own writing.

23

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professional portfolio that will prepare you for a career in the music industry.

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